Theme Park Physics.
The following information will help to brings physics out of the classroom and
in to a fun atmosphere, with real time examples and applications. It is
designed as a guide to what we can offer, a base from which to launch your
own lesson plans & projects to fit within your existing syllabus.
You will find activities to suit students from Year 3 to Year 12. These will
encourage students to interact with each other as well as develop their own
ideas and opinions using basic physics principles.
We encourage you to adapt the suggested activities to suit your group’s age
As we strive to provide the best possible service to the education sector we welcome &
encourage any suggestions. Thanks to the ThinkQuest website, physics students & theme
park enthusiasts around the world for their input.
• Info & Activities for Year 11 & under
• Q & A
• Year 12/13 Basic Physics
• Build your own force Meter
(pages are unnumbered so your own workbooks can be compiled as you like)
Theme Parks around the world use physics laws to simulate danger, while the
rides themselves are typically very safe.
Ride designers must fully understand these laws to work out how far the
envelope can be pushed. Designers and theme park enthusiasts alike want to
feel like they’re in danger but be absolutely safe at all times.
There is only one thing that really limits how far, how fast and how high
when it comes to theme park rides … what our bodies can take without
• Isaac Newton's laws can be applied to every ride at Rainbow’s End and
other theme parks around the world … make a list of our rides & how
many laws of motion they each involve. Explain your choices.
A SCARY CAROUSEL?
Our Carousel ride in the Cadbury Land Castle is not classed as a “thrill” ride.
Yet, it relies on the laws of motion as much as our Corkscrew Coaster. It’s
theoretically possible that a carousel could throw its passengers off if it
gained enough speed!
With all of its simplicity, the carousel has a delicate balance of motion and
forces. Every horse moves around one complete circle in the same amount of
time. The horses on the outside have to cover more distance than the inside
horses in this amount of time; therefore, the horses on the outside have a
faster linear speed than those close to the centre.
• In pairs, take turns riding the Carousel, one of you on an outside horse
and the other on an inside horse. Which felt faster? Which did you
prefer? Did you get dizzy? Explain what that felt like.
SHAPES & COLOURS & STUFF
If you look really closely you will find heaps of different geometric shapes
at a theme park.
Triangles are a strong shape. The shape of a triangle cannot be changed
when pressure is applied to it. This makes it good for building.
Quadrilaterals are also common … squares and rectangles and a sort of a
squashy square called a parallelogram.
Theme parks are colourful places. Bright colours make people smile and feel
happy. Dark colours can be a bit scary or make people feel sad. You’ll find
lots of different colours at Rainbow’s End. We hope they make you feel
Some of our rides have got lights on them. This makes them sparkle on
cloudy days and when we are open at night.
• Some rides aren’t made up of circles but they do go round and round.
What rides are like that?
• How many different shapes can you see on each ride you go on?
• What is the shape that you see most often at Rainbow’s End? Why do
you think this is?
• The Rainbow’s End logo has shapes and colours in it. What are the
colours used? Do you know the names of these colours in any other
• Make a list of all the colours you can find in the park. How many did
• How many rides use your favourite colour?
• Which ride at Rainbow’s End has the most lights? Did you count them
WEIGHTLESSNESS & PENDULUM RIDES
Our Pirate Ship is a pendulum ride.
Riders experience a sensation of weightlessness when they approach the top
of the arc of travel.
What passengers feel is the force of the seat pushing on their body with a
force to counteract gravity’s downward pulling force.
A 60 kilo person at rest in a chair experiences the seat pushing upwards on
his or her body with a force of 60 kilos. At the top of the Pirate Ship this
same 60 kilo person will feel less than this normal sensation of weight. In
fact at the very top of the Pirate Ship, riders begin to fall out of their seat,
that’s why we have lap bars.
Since the 60 kilo person is no longer in full contact with the seat, it is no
longer pushing on them with the same amount of force. And that’s why
riders get the sensation of weighing less than their actual weight.
Motion sickness is caused when the information from a person’s eyes does
not coincide with the apparatus in a person’s inner ear that senses motion.
The sensation of motion sickness can also be caused by sensory overload.
Medical research has determined that the two most likely places to produce
motion sickness are on a ship in the middle of a stormy sea and on a pendulum
ride like the Pirate Ship!
• Close your eyes while you are sitting in the very back of the Pirate Ship.
Does this make the ride more or less fun? Why?
• Raise your legs and arms as your side of the Pirate Ship swings down
towards the middle. What does it feel like?
• Does where you sit on the Pirate Ship make a difference? Why do you
think that is?
THE THIRD LAW OF MOTION: THE LAW OF INTERACTION
“Every action produces an equal and opposite reaction”
We’ve all heard this one repeated at some time or another, but not everyone
realises that this is Newton’s third law of motion, The Law of Interaction.
At Rainbow’s End, two of the best real world examples of The Law of
Interaction are the Dodgems and the Bumper Boats.
These two rides are designed so riders can crash into each other without
causing danger to themselves or others. The Dodgems have a large rubber
bumper, the bumper boats are each housed within a large inflatable tube.
When the vehicles collide, the drivers feel a change in their motion and
become aware of their own movement (inertia). Though the vehicles may
stop or change direction, the drivers continue in the direction they were
moving before the collision.
Collisions are also affected by the mass of the driver. The driver with the
lesser mass has the greater change in motion, a larger jolt. Of course the
kind of collision, velocity of the involved cars and the mass of the drivers
also plays a role in bumper car collisions.
(Dodgems and Bumper Boats)
• Get a group of friends together of all different sizes, maybe ask your
teacher as well. Observe how different types of collisions affect the
movement of the drivers. Did the smaller drivers get more or less of a
jolt? How did different types of crashes affect the jolts received?
• Does the water affect the velocity of the boats and the resulting jolt
in a collision? How? Why?
THE FIRST & SECOND LAWS OF MOTION: INERTIA &
Isaac Newton's first two laws relate to force and acceleration, which are
key concepts in roller coaster physics.
The Law of Inertia states that bodies in motion will stay in motion unless
they are acted on by an external force. Bodies at rest will stay at rest
unless they are acted upon by an external force. Initial resistance to that
force is called inertia. The degree of inertia is dependent on the mass of
Newton’s second law, The Law of Acceleration, explains how the mass of an
object and the amount of force applied to it are related to the acceleration
of an object. The greater the mass, the more it resists being moved, the
smaller its acceleration will be. The greater the force … well I’m sure you
get the picture.
• Watch the Corkscrew Coaster go through a couple of circuits. What are
some of the external forces acting on the coaster cars? Explain.
THE ENERGY & FORCES OF A COASTER
There are two main types of energy at work on the Corkscrew Coaster,
Potential & Kinetic. The forces we will look at are ‘G’ forces, centripetal
force & centrifugal force.
Potential energy is the same as stored energy. When you lift a heavy object
you exert energy (which later will become kinetic energy when the object is
dropped.) The lift motor from the Rainbow’s End coaster exerts potential
energy when lifting the cars to the top of the hill. The higher the hill, the
more potential energy that is produced and the greater the amount of
kinetic energy when the cars are dropped. At the top of the hills the train
has a huge amount of potential energy, but it has very little kinetic energy.
At the bottom of the hill there is very little potential energy but a great
amount of kinetic energy.
Think of kinetic energy as the energy of motion, the ability to do work. The
greater the mass and speed of an object the more kinetic energy there will
be. As the coaster cars accelerate down the hill potential energy is
converted into kinetic energy.
As you change direction on the coaster you feel "G forces". When the
amount of force exerted by the seat to keep you up, equals the amount of
gravitational force pulling you down, you experience "1G". That’s the normal
gravitational pull. If it takes more than that amount, (typically because you
are moving upward) you can experience greater G forces. So there’ll be a
time on the coaster when, for a brief period of time, you weigh two and
three times what you weigh normally! If you are not being pushed upward by
the seat, (typically because you are moving downward) you can experience
less than "1G."
"Pulling negative g's" is what happens when you go over a hill and the coaster
cars begin to descend. (You’ll pull negative ‘g’s as you descend on fearfall as
well.) For a brief period, you are not sitting on the seat. Eventually, you are
stopped from your parabolic course by the lap bar and are pulled along with
train. To complete a vertical loop, a coaster train must enter with sufficient
kinetic energy to reach the top and still be moving. It then has converted
kinetic energy into potential energy and starts down the other side of the
loop, and accelerates out.
As the coaster train starts towards the loop, gravity and momentum are
pulling the train out of the loop, the force that moves the train through the
loop is called the centripetal force. On it's upward climb, the train reaches a
point where gravity is no longer pulling it out of the loop and thereafter it is
acting as part of the centripetal force pulling the train toward the center of
the circle. It is from this point until the top of the loop that it is important
that the train has enough momentum to counteract the forces pulling it
toward the center of the loop.
• Ride the Corkscrew Coster and identify four distinct stages of the ride.
What forces are at work in each of these stages? What effect did they
have on the coaster train? The riders?
• Ride the coaster a few times but sit in a different position. Try the
front car, the rear car and a middle car. Is the experience different
each time? Explain how & why.
CENTRIFUGAL FORCES & THE CORKSCREW COASTER
Have you ever noticed that the loops on modern-day steel track roller
coasters aren’t circles? When coaster builders first started turning riders
upside down, they built 360° loops. They were repeatedly unsuccessful.
The centrifugal force generated as the cars moved up towards the top of
the loop pushed riders into their seats with too much energy. And because
the cars decelerated sharply at the top of the circle, sometimes riders fell
Modern coasters, including the Corkscrew Coaster, have a clothoid loop
which smooths out the acceleration so riders speed safely along the interior
of the loop. The secret is the loop’s changing radius, which controls the
speed of the cars.
When the circle is elongated into an ellipse the radius at the top of the loop
is much smaller. The coaster cars move faster than they would in a 360°
circular loop, creating a greater centrifugal force to counteract gravity and
keeping riders safely in their seats.
1. Tie a small pebble to a piece of string and whirl it in a circle. Observe
how fast the weight moves. What happens if you lengthen the string?
What happens if you shorten it? Now imagine the weight is a roller
coaster car on a track … would you rather ride the short string ride or
the long string one? Why?
FREE FALLING ON fear
A man called Galileo first introduced the concept known as free fall.
According to legend, Galileo dropped balls of different weights from the
Leaning Tower of Pisa to help support his ideas. These classic experiments
formed the basis of the work of Isaac Newton who reiterated to the world
that all objects free fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass. An
object in the state of free fall is influenced only by the force of gravity.
The object has a downward acceleration toward the centre of the earth, the
source of gravity.
• On earth the rate of acceleration caused by gravity is 9.8m/s2
fall gives riders the sensation of free fall. There are three distinct
parts to this ride:
1. ascending to the top
2. momentary suspension
3. the quick downward plunge.
In the first part of the ride, force applied to the car lifts it to the top of
the tower. The amount of force depends on the mass of the car and the
passengers within the car. Motors create this upward force. There are
built-in safety allowances for variables concerning the mass of the riders.
Once the car reaches the top of the tower, it suspends for a short moment
in time. Dramatically the car plunges down toward the ground, influenced by
the earth’s gravitational pull.
"Pulling negative g's" is what happens when the fear
fall cars begin their
descent. For a brief period, you are not sitting on the seat. Eventually, you
are stopped by the restraints and your bottom makes contact with the seat
According to Galileo’s and Isaac Newton’s theories of free fall, the least
massive, and also the most massive, riders free fall with the same rate of
fall ride has a special patented magnetic braking system that
produces a controlled stop at the bottom.
1. What was the scariest part of the ride for you? Why?
2. Did you lose contact with the seat as the car came down? Why do you
think that was?
3. Would you have come down faster if you weighed less? If you weighed
FEELING THE POWER OF
Power Surge is the latest ride at Rainbow’s End. Twenty-four riders in six
clusters of four begin their journey seated with their feet dangling below
them. There are four main stages to the ride.
1. The main arm rises.
2. & 3. The main arm spins vertically and the sweep arms rotate horizontally.
These are both motor driven rotations.
4. The seats rotate independently. This is a gravity-driven rotation and
differs depending on how the four seats in your cluster are loaded.
• Ride Power Surge with people who weigh more
than you in your cluster and then again with
people who weigh less than you. Is the ride
experience different? Why?
• What about if you were the only person sitting
in the cluster? What would happen then?
• What are the forces at work on this ride?
Questions of Energy.
1. On fear
fall we have two carriages which each weigh the same. If one carriage is
empty and the other has four adults each weighing 100 kilos and both carriages are
released from the top of the 54m tower at the same time, which will travel faster?
a. The car with four people
b. The empty car
c. The cars will travel the same time.
2. When the Corkscrew Coaster is taken to the top of the hill by the chain, what
increases? a. The potential energy of the train.
b. The gravity of the train.
c. The mass of the train.
3. When the train goes through the loop on the Corkscrew Coaster, what is the force
that keeps it going? a. Centrifugal force
b. Centripetal force
4. How fast will your fear
fall carriage be falling after 2 seconds?
5. Why are tear drop shaped loops used on roller coasters instead of circular loops?
a. Clothoid loops are more pleasing to the eye.
b. Circular loops are difficult to build
c. Circular loops put too much force on
6. When the train goes through the loop on the Corkscrew Coaster, what is the force
that presses riders into their seats?
a. Centrifugal force.
b. Centripetal force.
7. The Corkscrew Coaster takes approximately two minutes from start to finish when
empty. Ignoring friction, with all seven cars loaded to maximum capacity, how long
will the journey take?
a. Approximately two minutes.
b. Approximately four minutes.
c. Approximately three and a half minutes.
8. What force is used to brake a roller coaster?
a. Small nuclear force.
c. Centrifugal force.
9. If you dropped a small parachute off the top of fear
fall just prior to the carriage
being released, why would it reach the bottom after you?
a. Because Newton proved weight does affect
the rate of descent.
b. Because you were pulled down by the
restraints in the carriage.
c. Because the force created by the gravity
pulling the parachute down is reduced by the
amount of friction the parachute will generate
during it’s drop.
The following Rainbow’s End Physics worksheets are designed for year
13 but some sections are suitable for Year 12. Please familiarise yourself
with the contents prior to handing out to students. This module has
been put together by Physics teachers in the Auckland region.
We would encourage teachers to present the pages to students with a
tailor-made cover sheet. It should include the following:-
• Designated assembly area & time of departure from the park
• Equipment needed
• Equipment provided (horizontal accelerometers) & time of return.
Please note that in response to feedback from teachers, Rainbow’s End
no longer provides force meters for students use, rather we have
included a step-by-step guide for students to make their own equipment
in the classroom prior to their visit.
Rainbow’s End opens at 10am and students will need at least four hours
to get the necessary measurements and make calculations.
The following information has been specially prepared for the exclusive use of Rainbow’s End Theme Park & students &
teachers involved in Physics Education in NZ. Many thanks to those teachers and students who are continually helping us to
refine our Physics programmes.
Build Your Own Force Meter
You will need:
A Sheet of OHP transparency
A paper clip
A stopper (We cut a piece off an eraser, but a cork or Blu Tac will do as
well – as long as it fits tight)
A Vivid or marker pen
A really stretchy spring ( 1.5 gms/cm & Approx. 3 cm unstretched)
A 10 gram fishing sinker
A rubber band
A drawing pin
Roll up the piece of transparency into a tube approx. 15 mm in diameter.
Secure the ends by folding a piece of tape over the seam at each end.
Stick the seam down at the centre with a small piece of tape before
running a piece right down the tube to stick down the entire edge.
Straighten out your paper clip and cut off a piece approx. 25 mm long.
Bend it in half and thread it through one end of your spring. Apply a
small piece of tape so that it will not come off.
Push the paper clip in to the bottom of your stopper. Attach the sinker to
the bottom of the spring & fix with tape
Insert the stopper in to the tube so that when held vertically the sinker and
spring hang freely in the centre of the tube. Make sure the stopper is
secure and wont shift from it’s position. Apply a piece of tape over the
top of the tube
Hold your force meter horizontally, around the clear tube, take your vivid
and make a mark where the bottom of the spring is sitting – Mark this
with a ‘0’. Now hold the force meter vertically and do the same – mark
this point with ‘1’.
Measure the distance between 0 and 1. Put a mark the same distance
away from the last one you made.
Eg: if 0 and 1 are 2 cm apart, make the next mark around the tube 2 cm
down from ‘1’. Repeat this process until you have 5 marks around your
Using a drawing pin, poke a hole about 5mm up from the bottom of your
force meter. Poke another hole opposite the one you have just made.
Thread the rest of your paper clip through one side. Thread your rubber
band on to the paper clip before you poke it through the other side.
Use some pliers to bend the ends of the paper clip around into the tube so
they won’t get caught on anything.
Put a piece of tape over right over the end of the force meter. Now you
have a nifty tether to put around your wrist, so you can’t lose your force
meter on the rides!
Now you’ve made it……
Here’s how to use it!:
Your force meter will measure the amount of g-force you are
experiencing on a ride. The numbers you marked on your force meter
represent ‘G’s. This is the unit used to measure that force. Ever tried to
lift your feet up while going around the Coca-Cola Corkscrew loop? Try
it! – You will experience the effects of G force holding them down!
Hold the force meter upright to measure the amount of Gs pulling you
down, or during the loop, holding you in your seat. Pointing the top of
the force meter in the direction that you are travelling and holding the
other end to your body, will measure how much force is pushing on you
as you move forward – you could try this on the Pirate Ship.
Hold your force meter upside down to measure the negative G’s as you
plummet towards the ground on fear
Who would’ve though physics could be this fun?!